The Premier League returns: The main rule changes for the 2021/22 season

A number of changes have been introduced which could have a significant impact on the new Premier League campaign.

Published: 13 August 2021 - 3.17pm

The new Premier League season is just around the corner and players will have to contend with several key rule changes in the new campaign.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) who are responsible for the governance of the laws of the game announced a number of alterations which were introduced on July 1.

While the changes are minor, they will have a fundamental impact on how matches are played and officiated.

The main changes and clarifications concern handball and offside.

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Handball

Law 12 (fouls and misconduct) has been revised to provide greater clarity on the handball rule after a number of high-profile misapplications of the law.

According to IFAB, it is an offence if a player “deliberately touches the ball with their hand/arm, for example moving the hand/arm towards the ball.”

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It will also be deemed an offence if a player touches the ball with their hand/arm when it has made their body unnaturally bigger.

They clarify: “A player is considered to have made their body unnaturally bigger when the position of their hand/arm is not a consequence of, or justifiable by, the player’s body movement for that specific situation. By having their hand/arm in such a position, the player takes a risk of their hand/arm being hit by the ball and being penalised.”

Crucially, although a goal scored directly from a hand/arm, even if accidental, will still be chalked off, accidental handball in the build-up will no longer be penalised. 

Offside

IFAB have sought to clarify the contentious offside rule in their new raft of law changes.

They confirm that the shoulder is not part of the arm for handball and add this important note: “for the purposes of determining offside, the upper boundary of the arm is in line with the bottom of the armpit.”

The Premier League will also introduce thicker lines to determine offside decisions, aiming to reduce the number of goals ruled out by marginal decisions.

In effect, PGMOL are trying to redress the balance of tight calls and give benefit to the attacking team.

This explanation could have a significant impact on how VARs interpret marginal offside calls.

Penalties

We could see fewer penalties awarded this season, following on from a record-breaking 125 last campaign.

In essence, the threshold for awarding a spot-kick will be increased and referees will no longer deem any contact in the box as an offence.

They will now also be looking at the force of the contact and what, if any, impact that has on the attacking player.

If the attacker has used said contact to look to win a penalty rather than being fouled, this will no longer result in a spot kick and instead will come down to the officials’ judgement of the incident.

Heading

The game’s leading bodies have agreed new guidance which limits the number of headers players are permitted to make.

The recommendations, based on multiple studies undertaken in recent months, restricts players to 10 “higher-force” headers a week in training.

These are typically headers following a long pass (more than 35m) or from crosses, corners or free-kicks.

The guidance will be applicable to clubs in the Premier League, EFL, Barclays Women’s Super League, FA Women’s Championship, the National League System, the Women’s Football Pyramid Tiers 3 and below, all grassroots football, and across the England national teams.

“Our heading guidance now reaches across all players, at all levels of the game,” said FA chief executive Mark Bullingham.

Substitutes

Premier League benches will continue to have nine players available to managers, however only three will be eligible to come onto the field.

The number of substitutes available was bolstered from seven to nine in December 2020, as the impact of the pandemic continued to be felt in the English top flight.

That increase will be left in place for the new campaign, but calls for an increase to five changes have not come into effect.

The January introduction of two concussion substitutes will also remain for the 2021/22 Premier League season.

Circumventing the law

IFAB have implemented a rule change whereby players will be booked and an indirect free-kick awarded if a player: “initiates a deliberate trick for the ball to be passed (including from a free kick or goal kick) to the goalkeeper with the head, chest, knee etc. to circumvent the Law, whether or not the goalkeeper touches the ball with the hands; the goalkeeper is penalised if responsible for initiating the deliberate trick.”

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